Racing the Mile: A How To


Kate Ziegler competes in beijingRacing the 1650 might seem like a daunting task, even for experienced distance swimmers. With 66 laps to tackle, race strategy can play an important role in the outcome of the event.
Too much effort in the beginning of a mile can make for a long and painful end. Going out too slowly may be difficult to make up in the latter half of the race.  For Olga Splichalova Espinosa, head coach of St. Croix Swim Club (SCSC) in Minnesota, it is all about descending.
Espinosa has raced and coached her fair share of distance events. Espinosa was born and raised in the Czech Republic, where she was a two-time Olympian (1992 and 1996), Czech Nationals record holder and a European champion. She came to the United States in 1994 to study and swim at the University of Minnesota where she became a Big Ten Champion, NCAA All-American and a University of Minnesota Hall of Fame inductee.
Now having coached for SCSC for nearly 10 years, Espinosa suggests the following race strategy and drill recommendations for mile swimmers.
“For first-time milers, we try to focus on three descending 500s and finish the last 150 yards very strong,” Espinosa says. To assist with descending, she encourages swimmers to increase their kicking, as well as effort.
For swimmers with a few miles already behind them, Espinosa recommends shortening the distance by which they descend.
“My more experienced distance swimmers work on descending three 300s, and holding their strong pace for the last 75,” Espinosa says. This strategy also includes strong kicking, including underwater off the walls, for the duration of the race.
To prepare for this type of race strategy, Espinosa has her swimmers focus on training multiple 100s on a quick interval to get as close to their 1650 race pace as possible.
Espinosa’s favorite stroke drill for distance swimmers is descending stroke count during a set of 50s or 100s, while maintaining the same speed. Training yourself to sustain a1650 race pace with fewer strokes encourages efficiency, which can save energy over the course of a mile. To establish an average stroke count, count the number of strokes taken each 25 during a 200 at 90% effort. That average becomes your base number. Over the course of the set, take progressively fewer strokes per length by increasing effort, focusing on better underwaters and stronger body rotation.  
Race Strategy Recap:

Break the race into manageable distances (3x300 or 3x500)
Descend each distance by increasing both effort and kick
Finish remaining distance at maximum race pace  
Stroke Drill Recap:

Establish an average stroke count per 25
Reduce number of strokes taken per length while maintaining speed
Maintain speed by keeping stroke long and increasing kick, effort and body rotation 

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